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Let's say you're hiring a senior HR manager at your company. What are the chances you would interview a candidate who had been teacher, a stay-at-home mom and a communications manager in financial services?

Pretty low? I thought so.

Recruiting firms, corporate HR departments and, today, even applicant tracking systems (ATS) gravitate toward job candidates whose careers have traveled a fairly straight trajectory. In HR, for instance, we expect candidates for mid-career roles to have started as an HR coordinator (or even an administrative assistant) before climbing the ladder to manager, director and vice president.

Why? Recruiters are conditioned to believe that knowledge increases in proportion to years of experience — but that's faulty reasoning, especially in our fast-changing world of work.

Rethinking the Definition of Value

A particular skill or years of practice isn’t what makes a candidate truly valuable; instead, it's his or her ability to learn new skills, methods or technologies that matters. Adopting a strategy that values intellect over line-by-line adherence to a job description will produce a better pool of viable candidates.

As the old adage goes, “You can teach an intelligent person, but you can't teach intelligence." Recruiters should adopt this mindset when evaluating job candidates, particularly those who have pivoted direction throughout their career.

Why do I say this with such conviction? The nature of work is undergoing unprecedented change, and the ways in which we accomplish certain tasks change with every advance in technology.

Job Hopping is the New Normal

As Charles Coy points out in “Why Job Hopping is the New Career Ladder," it's difficult, if not impossible, to predict the types of jobs that will be available even five years from now. In fact, the skills required for these jobs may not even have been invented yet. This uncertainty requires recruiters to focus on a variety of core skills; arguably, the most critical skill is the ability to learn.

That is precisely the skill that career pivoters have mastered through the variety of positions they've held. Whether employees pivot early or midway through their careers, adopting new skills develops new synapses in their brains, allowing them to learn even more.

For example, Noah majored in music at college and intended to teach, when he was recruited to run operations in his family's manufacturing business. Two years later, when my company needed CRM sales support, the hiring manager wanted me to hire a Salesforce ninja, and was shocked when I suggested Noah. “But he's never even used the app!" the manager protested. Pointing out that any college grad Noah's age had grown up using apps and would soon learn Salesforce, the manager agreed to meet Noah and was impressed by his interest in learning new things. Noah has since earned his Salesforce certification and is now running market research at a major publishing company.

A New Set of Core Skills

As HR professionals, we need to learn a new way to evaluate candidates — not only to prepare ourselves for how recruitment is changing, but also to develop a better understanding of career pivoters whose paths are marked by a variety of industries and professions.

So, what are those new "core skills" we should be looking for? With a predictive eye toward the future, here are my recommendations:

  • Social intelligence: In a global work environment, employees need to collaborate with far-flung groups of co-workers/clients, and demonstrate cultural sensitivity and openness to diversity.
  • Innovation: Candidates whose resumes showcase their creativity and willingness to propose new processes represent value for your company. This type of employee is interested in examining the paradigm and reconfiguring it — and that's a skill you need in a world where following the "traditional" way of doing things will leave you behind.
  • Technical literacy: Every profession requires knowledge of industry-relevant technology, but that doesn't mean recruiters should reject candidates who don't have specific software skills. Look for quality and quantity in the types of technological tools the candidate understands — an employee who learned one app can always learn another app.
  • Adaptability: A good indication of adaptability is one or more career pivots, either within a job function or an industry. Exposure to and success in a variety of industries and environments likely means a candidate works well with others and learns fast.

Let's return to the candidate for the HR position. The one who had been a teacher, a stay-at-home parent and manager of a communications team? That was me.

I didn't know about employment law, benefits or compensation analysis when I started, but those and other responsibilities of a HR generalist were acquired over time, through careful study and observation. They weren't the skills that landed me the job, or allowed me to excel. Rather, the variety of roles I had held demonstrated my adaptability, teaching in a multi-cultural environment developed my social intelligence and I had made it a point to stay ahead on technology.

So, recruiters: Next time you receive a career pivoter's resume, get excited — it could just be your next star employee.

Photo: Creative Commons